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London is full of life and greener than many think.
  • Can Pickles preserve our nightingales?

    "It'll be nice for residents to have birdsong," was the ignorant off-the-cuff comment overheard by RSPB staff who'd been in the public gallery attending a Medway Council planning meeting.

    Local residents, campaigners and developers had attended to hear councillors debate an application to build 5,000 new homes at Lodge Hill  in North Kent on a former Ministry of Defence site.

    Everyone knows homes are desperately needed; for both people and nature. But this planning application is about more than meeting a local housing need driven by Government targets requiring local authorities to embark on a long-overdue building crusade. This application not only condemns a locally important breeding colony of nightingales to extinction, it also throws down a gauntlet that, if left unchecked, would allow builders to trash protected nature sites nationally. I for one am wholly opposed to both outcomes. They're avoidable and unnecessary.

    That overheard comment was based on suggestions some of the resident nightingales would somehow survive the transformation from woodland and nationally protected land into a housing estate. We submitted evidence warning that the loss of the habitat would lead to the loss of these red-listed birds. We contacted councillors and their officers. We aired our concerns in the local media. We also warned that ignoring the sites' protected status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] would fly in the face of UK Government legislation. Medway Council has chosen to challenge UK law and ignore their moral responsibility to the future of declining nightingales.

    We are challenging their decision and have launched an e-petition urging Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to "call-in" this application and allow the rigorous process of a public inquiry to rule on the matter. If the development goes ahead, it will be one of the largest losses of SSSI land in the country since the mid-1990's.

    Secretary of State Eric Pickles has the power to save Lodge Hills' nightingales and the UK's protected places from unsuitable development.

    Lodge Hill sits on north Kent's Hoo Peninsula. It's a little gem of a spot, not far from London, treasured for its wildlife. It's an area requiring more housing and employment. In short, it needs a detailed review of its needs and a clinical assessment of its full wealth of resources to ensure future development enhances the area for people, nature and its economy. The current plan of action falls far short of what the Hoo Peninsula needs and deserves.

    This is a matter of national importance for the future of the UK's struggling wildlife, especially the immediately threatened nightingales. We'd like to demonstrate to Eric Pickles just how strong public opinion is for nature. So please do sign our e-petition and join us and the local MP, Mark Reckless, in backing the Government’s own guidance on developing protected sites. Save Lodge Hill from this unsuitable, unsustainable, unprecedented, unscientific and over-optimistic development.

  • Taming the jungle

    One of the most over-used clichés is that of the “urban jungle”.

    When applied to London, it gives the wrong impression, because it’s nothing to do with the amazing but dwindling wildlife, it applies instead to the savage human residents.

    The drab concrete greys and patchwork tarmac roads are a far cry from the soil and decaying leaf matter of a jungle floor. The housing estates and office blocks can’t compare with the venerable trees draped in vines with dense canopies filtering sun beams down through the steamy atmosphere trapped beneath their heavy leaves.

    We do share some of the same wildlife as the jungles imagined in our childhood brains. The Metropolitan Police have revealed they’ve seized elephant tusks, rhino horns and tiger “parts” illegally traded in the capital. This revelation is contained in a new report from the World Animal Protection charity which claims 44% of all wildlife crime is due to poaching.

    You’d think that sort of thing wouldn’t happen in the city; home to the mother of all parliaments. But even in the shadow of Big Ben, poachers were recently arrested fishing for eels by Westminster Bridge.

    European eel - Anguilla anguilla (c)

    Eels are critically endangered as numbers of them have crashed 95%. These amazing creatures wriggle around the Thames and other freshwater rivers for between 6 to 20 years before migrating to the Sargasso Sea to breed. Their tiny offspring drift back on the Gulf Stream some 4,000 miles to their parent’s home-rivers to continue the cycle. Eels form a crucial part of the marine food chain, so when their population flatlines, so too do the numbers of a range of other fish and birds. This puts the seriousness of poaching eels into context.

    The thoughtless act of poaching one species can lose us dozens of others. This wildlife crime is stupid, but others show humanity at its worse. In one particularly violent incident, officers caught four youths kicking a swan to death in one of our central London parks. I wonder how they’d fare facing-off against the tank of West African dwarf crocodiles seized during raid on a home in Croydon. The crocs are said to be capable of tearing limbs off a human and apparently do not make good pets!

    The urban jungle can be defined by its savage residents, or we can reclaim it and turn it into a modern day Garden of Eden.

  • Startling starlings

    As spectacles go, the roof of a house seemingly lifting-up, fragmenting and taking flight is pretty special and it’s a memory that will stick with Londoner Richard Spink.

    That was the impression he was left with when thousands of starlings, which had settled on a neighbours’ house in Thamesmead, came and went in waves, their bodies filling the sky over his head.

    Richard said: “What I captured in the ten photos was a fraction of the number of birds. They covered both sides of the roof and were on our home too. Our garden backs onto the Thames, we have nature reserves and the Crossness Sewage Treatment Works nearby, so there’s plenty of greenspace. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this number coming and going. It was quite a sight.”

    On your marks

    Get set



    London used to have huge flocks of starlings and the birds are still the number one most common garden bird recorded in the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch for Greater London. Numbers of the speckled birds have dropped 84% since the Birdwatch began in 1979.

    The RSPB’s Tim Webb said “You can almost hear and feel the beat of wings as they lift into the air when you look at Richard’s amazing photos. Clouds of starlings form swirling patterns each evening as they gather to rest. It’s one of nature’s most mesmerizing sights and to witness this number in the Capital is an increasingly rare experience.”

    Starlings are just one of the many UK species declining in number. A lack of natural food and nesting spaces are amongst some of the more common problems. The RSPB’s Give Nature a Home campaign is encouraging everyone to support wildlife by sowing wildflowers, growing hedges or planting trees in suitable locations. Visit for more information.